Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts.
But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control.
In other words, the United States now actually has a peculiar form of coalition government. In parliamentary systems, the parties in a coalition are typically neighbors on the ideological spectrum that enter into a partnership. We do coalition government differently, manacling together two ideologically incompatible parties and thereby condemning the nation to paralysis on most great questions and to politically manufactured crises to settle those that can’t be avoided.